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Virtual Yugoslavia

by Angela Pancella

there is no virtual Canada. One is hardly necessary when we have the real thing. But imagine Canada once was, and is no longer. You grew up there, but then a civil war came and took your country. You could flee and become a stranger in a new land, or you could stay while what you once knew as Canada became a stranger to you. No matter where you ended up, you wouldn't really be home.

The founder of Virtual Yugoslavia, webmaster Zoran Bacic, became caught in a situation like this. The real Yugoslavia he grew up in, itself a young country given its name only 70 years ago, got buried in the rubble of territory grabbing and ethnic cleansing. It looked like the country would never exist again. The fights may go on forever, squabbles over rocks and houses, when there's a finite amount of space on this earth. But these days, there's more than one way to have a country. Click on http://www.juga.com, and you'll see this introduction:

"This is Cyber Yugoslavia. Home of Cyber Yugoslavs. We lost our country in 1991 and became citizens of Atlantis. Since September 9, 1999 this is our home. We don't have a physical land, but we do have nationality, and we are giving CY citizenships and CY passports. Because this is Atlantis, we are allowing double and triple citizenships. If you feel Yugoslav, you are welcome to apply for CY citizenship, regardless of your current nationality and citizenship, and you will be accepted. Please read our Constitution for the details. If you are just curious, you are welcome to visit us as tourists."

This takes the Citizen of the World idea a bit further than most have considered it. Send away for your passport and belong to a homeland without border guards or borders, a true democracy where everyone has an equal vote, but the most important decision made is what the national anthem will be this week.

No worries that lobbyists will take over the country. They already have—every citizen is his or her own special interest group. Whatever the special interest, chances are there's a secretary of it. If not yet, there will be—they're shooting for 5 million people to join their nation (at which point they will apply to the UN to be recognized as such), and every one of them must be a secretary with a unique office. So, for example, there is a Secretary of the Treasury and a Secretary for Independency, but there are also less mundane offices (Secretary for Well Built Men, Secretary for Baclava, Domestic Cheese Pie and Heavy Eating).

Men and women from around the world (including 491 who list Canada as their non-virtual country) have joined—many Yugoslavs to start with, but many not. This further emphasizes the difference between CY and an "actual" country — CY knows no geographical boundaries. No one will ever be able to live there. Once it has the UN's recognition, 20 square meters somewhere on earth will be sought for purposes of housing its server. That is all the territory it will ever have.

No guidelines are given as to whether this should be treated as a frivolous lark — perhaps a chance to secure a passport with a better-looking picture — or as a serious social experiment. But citizens have to take an active part in all votes and keep up-to-date on changes in the constitution at the risk of losing their citizenship. With over 8000 citizens already, this experiment in active democracy could wield real power if called to do so. This raises a few questions about just what makes a country a country. Is it an expansion of the family, the home, as the term "homeland" implies? If so, did Yugoslavia go through a divorce? Perhaps that is the best analogy for the citizens of CY—they are like the children of a broken home, carving out new family ties with likeminded individuals. (Something splinter groups of Canadians should ponder before they commit themselves to separation.)

But what can a cyber-country provide to its citizens, other than a nostalgia for a former homeland? At the moment, little more than the opportunity to vote on that new national anthem, national flag, and national weapon. It is unclear whether, as the citizenship expands, less frivolous activities will take place under the CY flag (whatever it is that week). Already the Secretary for Singing in the Rain has put in a suggestion for CY not to wait for 5 million members to apply for UN membership. So far the votes have been heavily in favor of not waiting. What will happen once the nation has secured nationhood? Not commerce, if webmaster Bacic has any say about it (and he has indicated he does not want to dictate the direction CY will take—it will be purely up to the citizens). In an interview published on the site, he says, "The whole point is to is to make it completely artificial, with nothing concrete to lose or gain. Material things provide a context for people to compete, a context in which we have seen the Balkans go to war. There is no property here, so people are as equal or as powerful as they wish to be and how they contribute will be the measure of them."

Without property, without commerce, without an army — is Cyber Yugoslavia anything at all? With 8000 citizens and hundreds more applications arriving every week, it is at least a catalyst for discussion. Here is a new idea of a nation, surely as new and peculiar-sounding as the United States was, when it was just a theory. What happens to Cyber Yugoslavia may determine whether there ever will be a Cyber Canada as well. Let's hope one is never needed.


Angela Pancella works for www.mediaarts.org. Her job is to ponder the relationship of new technologies to artistic expression.
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